Some things to consider if you’re coming to this new:
You might well be wondering: “what the hell’s this?” if you are coming to it new. The truthful answer to that is “I don’t really know”, but let’s try to find out.
The Division Bell tour was a spectacular success in a great many ways – the band themselves seemed to actually be enjoying it for once, the set list contained a great deal of older material, including ‘Astronomy Dominie’ and the whole of ‘Dark Side’, and vast amounts of money were made via the live album (called ‘PULSE) and – after an entirely unexplained gap of ten years – the live DVD of the same name.
Incidentally, the original CD release of ‘Pulse’ had a flashing LED set into the spine; mine wore out after a year or so; apparently you could replace the battery if you were really intent on keeping it going…
Anyway, here’s a bit:
On October 29th, 1994, Pink Floyd gave their last ever full-length performance; it’s not clear if everyone knew this was the end of the road at the time, but there really doesn’t seem to have ever been any enthusiasm for doing anything more from any of them; 12 years after Roger Waters pronounced it, Pink Floyd finally ceased to be.
Of course, that didn’t stop people from making lots of money from them. Almost before the dust had settled on ‘Pulse’, various compilations and reissues started appearing. There’s an EP called ‘London 66-67’ which features the previously unreleased ‘Nick’s Boogie’:
There were various compilations, most notably the 2001 collection ‘Echoes’, which required all four band members to agree on a track listing – a singularly painful process by all accounts – it features a Storm Thorgerson cover in the style of ‘Ummagumma’, and is presented in what was claimed to be a ‘thematic’ order, rather than chronologically, so can seem a little schizophrenic at times, but perhaps that’s apt. A number of the longer tracks are edited for length, leaving it a little unsatisfying in places, but if you were only ever going to own one Pink Floyd album, I suppose… actually, no. Don’t do that; buy ‘Animals’ instead, and with what you’ve got left over, buy ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Thank me later.
Compilations begat boxed sets of remasters, which in turn begat another compilation entitled ‘A Foot in the Door’, which sounds like an edited highlights version of ‘Echoes’. It’s all a bit pointless, really, but it must make money for someone.
As all this repackaging and reissuing was going on, the various members also pressed on with solo work. Roger Waters released his own solo compilation in 2001, then wrote an opera called ‘Ça Ira’ about the French revolution. It’s, by all accounts, not particularly great (I’ve never felt the urge to listen to it all) – this is the overture:
Waters also issued a handful of singles over the years – ‘To Kill the Child’ is typical; lyrically exactly what you’d expect, with a soaring chorus drowned in backing vocals:
(he has gradually come to sound like Mark Knopfler as he’s aged, hasn’t he?)
David Gilmour gradually settled into a solo career which afforded him the respect he obviously feels he deserves; he makes a lot of money from touring these days, and seems especially popular in eastern Europe. Both ‘On an Island’ and ‘Rattle That Lock’ are perfectly fine examples of comfortable, middle-aged rock. You can’t help feeling that the thousands who still flock to his shows are going to see him do ‘Comfortably Numb’, though.
Gilmour is also in enormous demand as a session musician (or ‘guest musician’, as I have no doubt he’d prefer to be called) – over the years, he’s appeared on everything from a B.B King session to the Ben Watt / Bernard Butler album ‘Hendra’, as well as collaborating with The Orb on ‘Metallic Spheres’:
He also continues from time to time to work with Kate Bush, who he discovered when she was still a teenager – there’s a whole story there, which I never could quite fit in to the overall picture, but, in essence, we have Gilmour to thank for Kate Bush.
Nick Mason made some more albums with Michael Mantler, but his main post-Floyd project was to write a book, ‘Inside Out’, which chronicles the whole story – it’s been invaluable these past few weeks when there have been details which have escaped me, and I highly recommend it; he’s an engaging writer, although as he admits, his is only one version of the Pink Floyd story.
Rick Wright released one more solo album- ‘Broken China’ in 1996; the title track features Sinead O’Connor:
He then spent the next years touring with Gilmour, appearing on some of the tracks on Gilmour’s solo albums. Wright’s daughter married Guy Pratt; you should also read Pratt’s book ‘My Bass and other Animals’ for his insight into how that all worked – appearing on stage with your father-in-law didn’t always go smoothly!
And that ought really to have been that, except Bob Geldof can do miracles.
Quick, without looking: who headlined the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park? It wasn’t Pink Floyd, but you’d be forgiven for assuming it was. Paul McCartney had the unenviable task of having to follow that; I’m sure I watched it to the bitter end; I’m equally sure I wasn’t really taking it all in, and don’t remember a note of it.
Geldof had decided that getting Floyd back together would be the best way of promoting his event (anyone remember what it was really all about, beyond vague protest and a neat slogan about making poverty history? Thought not.) It seemed the unlikeliest of long shots, but somehow – by approaching everyone in the right order, and doing the whole ‘Ah, go on’ thing in the inimitable Geldof way – he managed to get Roger to phone Dave and say “I think we should do this”. With barely three weeks to rehearse in, all four of them agreed.
It might have been a disaster; it was a huge risk. Equally, it might have sparked a full reunion and tour, but that didn’t happen either, and probably just as well. Instead what happened was 24 minutes when all the baggage and all the years fell away, and (with a little help, as ever, from their supporting cast) the four people who had been Pink Floyd during that short period when they were incapable of putting a foot wrong, stood on the same stage and did what they did best:
I’ll be honest, I sat there that Saturday night, barely able to believe what I was seeing, and watching it again now can still bring a tear to my eye – I’m going to throw in one more post which tries to explain that – I’ve been to concerts which meant more to me, and seen some things I’ll never forget, but that night stands alone. I know I’m about to review a whole other Pink Floyd album, but really – the story ends here.
Syd Barrett died on July 7th, 2006. He had long since reverted to his birth name of Roger, and had no interest in Pink Floyd or the music scene generally for the last thirty years or more of his life. It is idle to speculate about what exactly happened to Syd; better to be grateful for what he did bring to Pink Floyd – without him, none of this would have happened. It’s easy to be sad for him, or to project all kinds of things onto his post-fame life; perhaps the truth is that he had seen that life, and didn’t want anything more to do with it.
Richard Wright died on September 15th, 2008, and with him died any hope of Pink Floyd ever performing again. For all that there were several years when he wasn’t officially in the band, it’s impossible to imagine the remaining members of the band performing those songs without Wright’s unique washes of keyboard – he was an integral part of the sound; one of the main reasons that ‘The Division Bell’ sounds so much like a proper Floyd album is that Wright is propelling the sound along and filling in the corners with colour. He was perhaps a little unsung in his lifetime, but there’s a whole album devoted to recognising his contribution, and I like to think he’d have approved.
Storm Thorgerson died on April 18th 2013. He was never in Pink Floyd, but he was most of the time ‘of Pink Floyd’; he is as responsible as anyone for the way they are perceived.
So, is it any good?
I’ve heard it described as ‘Endless Drivel’, and that’s not fair. However, it is an album of outtakes and discarded offcuts, glued together with Gilmour overdubs, and putting it out as a fully-fledged Pink Floyd album seems contrary to the spirit of the whole enterprise.
It’s the only Pink Floyd album I don’t own in any form, and having listened to it intently on Spotify over the past few days, I honestly don’t feel the need to change that. It’s not terrible; in fact, in places, it’s actually quite good, if somewhat backward-looking. It’s just that it’s not, you know, necessary. You can, of course, make that claim for all the albums after ‘The Wall’, but they each have some form of saving grace – this just doesn’t contain anything which grabs my attention at all. One song at the end with lyrics does not an album make, and I would have been perfectly happy to live out the rest of my days with my memories. This doesn’t sully the memories exactly; but it doesn’t enhance them.
I can pretend it doesn’t exist, I suppose. That will have to do.